Elisa Albert '00
Elisa Albert grew up in Los Angeles, California, where a guidance counselor at her college preparatory high school recommended she apply to Brandeis. Like many high school seniors, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after graduation. “I guess you could say I was excited by the school’s history of radical social politics, full of romantic ideas about Abbie Hoffman, Angela Davis, etc.,” she wrote in an email. “That I saw Hannah and Her Sisters senior year of high school and thought that line of Diane Wiest's was a sign.... [But the] truth is, I landed at Brandeis pretty randomly.”
Attending Brandeis, while perhaps a chance decision, is not one Albert’s regretted. “I really did luck out,” she said. Novelist Stephen McCauley, poet Mary Campbell, and then-visiting writer Jayne Anne Phillips quickly ushered Albert under their collective wings. She majored in English with a concentration in creative writing, specifically fiction, in which she excelled. Senior year, she wrote a fiction thesis.
Since graduating from Brandeis, Albert has obtained her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Columbia University and published three books: a short story collection, a critically-acclaimed novel, and, more recently, edited an anthology about sibling relationships titled Freud’s Blind Spot.
How This Night is Different, her debut story collection, was published by Free Press in 2006 to widespread critical acclaim. “How is this story different?” wrote Tova Mirvis, author of The Ladies’ Auxillary, in a review. “It manages to be sharp, unflinching, tender, funny, smart, and vastly entertaining all at once.”
Many of the stories in Different use a central event in Jewish culture – a bris, bat mitzvah, wedding, Seder – as a lens to delve into the relationship dynamics and psyche of its characters. “The author's command of her craft should impress anyone who appreciates short fiction, and her characters are so singularly human that their power to charm and engage transcends religious affiliation,” declared Kirkus Reviews, who marked the collection a “Hot Debut” of 2006.
Often, Albert’s writing is compared to that of Philip Roth or Grace Paley (whom she once sat next to, she says, at an Indian restaurant on Moody Street after a campus reading). Nowhere has this been more apparent than in her 2008 novel, The Book of Dahlia – a black comedy about a deadbeat who is diagnosed with brain cancer. “Elisa Albert has the unique gift of making bedmates out of humor and heartbreak. The Book of Dahlia is wonderful,” wrote Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdistan and the recent Super Sad True Love Story.
“Albert writes with the black humor of Lorrie Moore,” The New Yorker wrote, “and a pathos that is uniquely her own, all the more blistering for being slyly invoked.”
The anthology Freud’s Blind Spot: Writers on Siblings, a collection of essays by writers on – surprise – their siblings, has been called “introspective” and “provocative” by Kirkus Reviews and “a fine-tuned, poignant, insightful, and often funny looking glass” by Booklist.
When not working on her own projects, Albert teaches creative writing as an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University.
Recently, Albert was awarded a Writer-in-Residence fellowship at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, where she spent last spring editing Freud's Blind Spot and working on a second novel.